Hike of the Week: Oneonta Gorge

Get this Columbia River Gorge excursion while it’s hot.

August 25, 2010

Inside this narrow Columbia River Gorge slot canyon there are undoubtedly patches of earth and rock that have never felt the sun’s rays. A fact that makes Oneonta Gorge an ideal hideout to scurry off to during these last hours of summer. (I say hours because, if you believe the forecast, summer proper might just be over by the end of this weekend.)

There is no trail to follow. But arriving at your destination—a 60-foot falls crushing down into a rippling dark-water wading pool—requires minimal navigational skills.

The canyon walls funnel you upstream to the falls in barely a third of a mile. A short trek, sure. But, as the old cliché says, getting there is half the fun.

Along the way, you’ll need to summon the strength and the wits to negotiate a log jam, a sort of every-man-for-themselves proposition that requires scrambling, balancing, and otherwise clawing your way over an impossibly large tangle of felled trees.

One hurdle cleared, it’s now time to get wet. And I do mean wet.

A few hundred yards past the logs, the canyon chokes down to maybe 15 feet across; a place where the only thing between you and the falls is a waist-deep pool of water to be forded. (And, no, there’s no way around it.)

It’s right here, amid this narrow sieve of mossy rock, with your legs soaked to bone, where you will swear that not one single sunbeam has ever dared to go, and where, mostly likely, you’ll have long forgotten about 90-degree-days you left behind in the city.

From here, the falls are straight ahead. And since you’ll already be doused from the waist down, it’s worth taking the plunge into the pool and feeling the near frozen wisps of water fanning out from the falls.

Such actions will induce a bit of shivering. But just consider them your last dance with summer.

Things you’ll want on the hike: to be wearing swim trunks/bathing suit, water sandals/shoes, and a change of clothes back at your car.

Directions: Take 1-84 to exit 35 and head west down the Historic Columbia River Highway and look for the trailhead on your left. No fees or permits required.

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